There’s no question that Royals shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr. is one of the most anticipated Royals position prospects in quite some time. Drafted No. 2 in the 2019 draft, Witt made a serious impression in Summer Camp last season, and so far this Spring Training, his legend has only grown after roughly a week of Cactus League play. Furthermore, while Royals fans have been excited by his bat, defense, and five-tool potential, this at-bat below put Witt on the national radar in a serious way:
The massive bomb, and Witt’s strong start to Cactus League play in 2021, has Royals fans thinking: is it possible that the Royals will call up Witt to the big league roster on Opening Day? Or should Royals fans continue to think conservatively on him and his movement in the Royals, in order to not rush him and his professional development?
Let’s take a look at both sides of the argument and what the Royals should do with Witt in preparation for the 2021 Royals season.
The Case to Call Up Witt, Jr. Immediately
I tend to think of myself as a rational baseball fan, and I try to keep things like Spring Training stats for example, in context. If Spring Training numbers really were so dependable, Bubba Starling, Nicky Lopez, and Ryan McBroom would have had break out seasons in 2020.
As Royals fans know, that was far from the case.
However, there is something special about Witt that separates him from highly heralded position prospects the Royals have had in the past. First all, Witt has the pedigree, as he comes from a baseball family, as his dad, Bobby Sr., pitched 16 Major League seasons, 11 of them with the Texas Rangers. That kind of lineage matters, and there are plenty of stories of MLB sons who have experienced success at the MLB level due to the exposure they had to the game as children. Witt demonstrates that and then some: even though he is only 20-years-old, he carries the most swagger on the team, and he is the frequent topic of discussion this Spring in the Royals clubhouse.
Here’s is what recently extended third baseman Hunter Dozier said about Witt recently:
And here is what former first round pick and starting pitcher Brady Singer said about Witt, and his potential as a player in Kansas City. Considering Singer has had a lot of hype himself as the Royals’ first selection in the 2018 MLB Draft, his recognition of Witt definitely is not hollow praise:
And lastly, in a recent article in the Athletic by Royals beat writer Alec Lewis, it was chronicled that Witt had done significant work this off-season with Bobby Stroupe, an athletic trainer who also works with Patrick Mahomes. In Lewis’ piece, this quote about Mahomes and Witt should catch the attention of not only Royals and baseball fans, but all Kansas City sports fans in general:
“To be able to have a relationship with two guys I think are going to be leaders for a long time,” Stroupe said recently, “it really endears me to the community and those organizations. I’m just excited about what it’s going to mean for the city. Those guys can bring people together. And they can bring wins.”“Why Royals prospect Bobby Witt Jr. worked with Patrick Mahomes’ trainer” by Alec Lewis; The Athletic
Hence, with all these glowing reports, and a current Cactus League line that sits at .353/.389/.706, which includes two home runs, six RBI and an OPS of 1.095, it’s hard to NOT imagine Witt fitting in at the MLB level immediately.
After all, while Nicky Lopez offers a solid glove at second, he hasn’t exactly impressed at the plate in his first two seasons, and he hasn’t necessarily gotten off to a great start at the plate this Spring either. Furthermore, while Dozier offensively can handle third base on an offensive end, his defensive ability has left a little to be desired at the hot corner. Thus, a move to right field, a shift of Merrifield to second, and naming Witt the Royals’ starting third baseman could not only give the Royals a glimpse of the Royals lineup for years to come, but Witt’s call up could be the best Royals lineup offensively immediately as well.
That would be especially true if Witt can continue to transition this solid Spring and past Summer at the Alternate Site to the MLB level this April.
The Case to Holding Off on Calling Up Witt Too Soon
While it is easy to get excited about Witt potentially starting at third base on Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium, Royals fans have to keep this Tweet below in context when talking about the idea of naming Witt to the Opening Day roster:
Thus, the precedent isn’t there to call up players to the big leagues who are in Witt’s situation. While it sounds nice in fantasy, history shows that MLB organizations are going to be more careful than usual, especially with prospects as prized as Witt.
Nonetheless, the temptation is there for Dayton Moore to call up Witt, and if there was any GM who was going to do it, Moore would be the candidate. Unlike other GMs who focus on service time manipulation in order to garner extra years of club control, Moore has had a history of calling up guys to the MLB level, even if they could have benefited from keeping them down in the Minors just a little longer. Moore didn’t wait with Eric Hosmer in 2011, and last year, he didn’t wait with Brady Singer, either. Thus, if the Royals truly believe that Witt can be a starting infielder on Opening Day, then Moore and the Royals front office won’t hesitate to do so.
That being said, it is easy to forget that Witt didn’t really impress in his lone professional stint back in 2019. In 37 games in the Arizona Rookie League, he posted a .262/.317/.354 slash and a wRC+ of 85, according to Fangraphs. Now, there could be plenty of reasons for Witt’s struggles in Arizona: maybe he was burned out after a long high school season, maybe it was the post-draft hype hangover, or maybe it was just a bad stretch of play that was indicative of his full potential as a professional. Nonetheless, based on previous data, the Royals may better serve Witt and the Royals club in general if they just stay patient, and give Witt at least half a season to prove himself at the Minor League level in 2021.
Furthermore, the Royals don’t necessarily need Witt honestly as of now. Edward Olivares is having a solid Spring at the plate, as is Kyle Isbel, who is actually hitting .455 and posting an OPS of 1.045. Kelvin Gutierrez could also fit in at third base, and he is off to a solid Spring with a .333 average and 1.222 OPS. Thus, the Royals have options, and ones with more Minor League experience who deserve a longer look in Royals blue, should Lopez not be the answer at second, and either Whit moves back to second or Dozier moves back to the outfield.
The power and potential of Witt is fun, and it’s possible that Witt could be up at the Major League level by August or September and help this club down the stretch, especially if they are competing for a Wild Card or Central division title.
That being said, the Royals have options, and they don’t need to screw up Witt in a similar fashion to Adalberto Mondesi, who was rushed to the MLB level way too soon back in 2015 and 2016, which hindered and slowed down his development as player with the Royals.
So What Should the Royals Do with Witt?
It’s not easy, but the Royals need to be patient with Witt. Granted, I know that’s a polarizing statement, as I know most Royals fans are starved for this team to be good, and are aching for a “franchise player” in the mold of a Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, or Fernando Tatis, Jr. Furthermore, with Nolan Arenado heading to St. Louis to be the Cardinals’ new “franchise player” this Winter, it would be nice for the Royals to have a “franchise-changing” player that could either give Arenado a run for his money, or perhaps surpass him in long-term value. That would drive St. Louis baseball fans mad, which in turn, would be a win alone for Kansas City baseball fans.
However, there is just too much invested in Witt, and putting all that pressure on him at 20-years-old would simply be irresponsible of the Royals. Yes, the Royals are looking to win, but they built themselves to be more competitive this year in comparison to years past with the assumption that they were going to be WITHOUT Witt. If Witt was expected to be part of the equation, the Royals probably would not have gotten Andrew Benintendi or Carlos Santana to be the offensive “leaders” of this squad. They would have let it ride with the young guns, much like the San Diego Padres last season with Tatis, Jr.
That being said, even Tatis had 121 games under his belt at Low-A and Double-A ball before he made his Padres debut. Thus, a full, or even three-quarters of a Minor League season would only help Witt and his development, and give the Royals a better shot to see what they have in the upper minors, especially with Olivares, Isbel, and Gutierrez, who have shown this Spring that they could contribute at the MLB level in productive ways.
Being patient is not easy for Kansas City sports fans nowadays, especially in the wake of back-to-back Super Bowl berths, and a Sporting KC team that ranks up there with the best MLS clubs on an annual basis. There is a pressure for the Royals to compete with those teams, and many believe that Witt will be the key to that turnaround.
But baseball is not a “one-man” game. The Royals will need a lot more than a sensational Witt to compete, and they need to begin and grow that process in 2021 in order to make the winning process not only realistic, but sustainable in the future (which wasn’t the case the first time around from 2013-2017).
Witt has all the signs of a “franchise player”, even if some Royals fans are pessimistic:
I don’t think Witt will be another Bubba Starling by any means. Bubba didn’t have the high school pedigree or baseball bloodlines that Witt had, and even Witt has a swagger already that Bubba never showed at any point during his professional career with the Royals.
That being said, baseball is a funny game, and it’s always better to act prudently, especially when it comes to the development of top players. One bad season of development can be absolutely back-breaking and the Royals can’t screw this up with their most precious prospect.
Witt will be up in KC soon enough. And when he’s finally a Royal, he’ll light it up and capture not only the affection of Royals fans, but hopefully the baseball world in general with his “superstar” play and personality.
It just won’t (or shouldn’t) happen on April 1st, Opening Day at the K.
(Photo Credit: MLB.com)